According to the U.S. baby name data, the name Kayleigh became very popular all of a sudden in the mid-1980s:
- 1987: 537 baby girls named Kayleigh [rank: 415th]
- 1986: 748 baby girls named Kayleigh [rank: 321st]
- 1985: 211 baby girls named Kayleigh [rank: 794th]
- 1984: 7 baby girls named Kayleigh [debut]
- 1983: unlisted
- 1982: unlisted
Kayleigh was the fastest-rising baby name of 1985, in fact.
What made it so trendy?
The song “Kayleigh” (1985) by British rock band Marillion.
Several of the band’s singles had done well in the UK up to that point, but the rock ballad “Kayleigh” was their first (and, so far, only) song to reach the U.S. Hot 100, peaking at #74 in late October, 1985.
The lead singer of the band had written the song with several past girlfriends in mind, but the name of the song was inspired by one woman in particular. He explained:
I’d wanted to write a song about a girlfriend I’d split up with, whose name was Kay. Which of course we couldn’t do. So we added her middle name, Lee, and it became Kayleigh instead. […] But it wasn’t just about Kay, it was inspired by three or four different people in my life.
Interestingly, the entire Kaylee name-group was already on the rise before the song was released in mid-1985. For instance, the most popular spelling of the name, Kaylee — which ultimately peaked at 26th in 2009 — jumped well into the top 1,000 (824th) in 1984. The same year, the spelling Kaylie was the 25th-fastest rising girl name (relatively speaking), and girl-name debuts included Caylie, Caleigh, Cayley, Kailie, and Cailey — not to mention Kayleigh itself.
So the song didn’t exactly kick things off. No doubt it contributed to the name’s trendiness, though. It does seem to have given a discernible boost to the spellings Kaleigh, Kalee, Kalie, Kaeleigh, and Kaileigh. And it may have been behind the debut of Cayleigh in 1986.
So…why was the Kaylee name-group already picking up stream in 1984? I don’t know for certain, but I can point to a couple of possible contributing factors:
- The trendiness of Kayla in the early ’80s, due largely to a soap opera character: Kayla Brady from Days of Our Lives.
- The trendiness of Ashley in the early ’80s, due in part to another soap opera character: Ashley Abbott from The Young and the Restless.
What are your thoughts on the baby name Kayleigh? (Do you like this spelling, or do you prefer one of the other spellings?)
- Kayleigh (song) – Wikipedia
- Ling, David. “The Story Behind The Song: Kayleigh by Marillion.” Loudersound.com 7 Apr. 2014.
- Marillion – Wikipedia
- Popular Baby Names – SSA
P.S. Marillion’s 2nd-biggest song, “Lavender” (1985) — which was the track right after “Kayleigh” on the Misplaced Childhood album — may have given the baby name Lavender a nudge in the mid-’80s.
P.P.S. The band’s name, pronounced mar-IH-lee-un, was based on the title of the novel The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien.